Category Archives: In Rotterdam

Ten tips for travelling with kids

Although I have travelled many times to conferences and for work, my trip with Oliver to Europe was the first time one of my children accompanied me. Now that Oliver and I are well and truly home, here are my top tips for a great work or holiday travel experience with a kid (with the caveat that I travelled with just one kid; a pretty easy going 8-year-old kid at that). These things worked for us:

1. Maintain bedtime

In England, Denmark and the Netherlands, the sun didn't go down until very late; after 9pm. In fact, we travelled just before and after the summer solstice, so during the longest days of the year. It was tempting to make use of these long days. But on the advice of my friend Jennie (who recently travelled to London with her similarly aged daughter), I mostly maintained Oliver's usual bedtime; around 7-8pm with only a few exceptions. When we first arrived in London, jet lag meant Oliver was ready for bed even earlier. But after he was mostly over his jet lag, I still tried to stick with early nights. This became difficult in Rotterdam where conference activities finished late and everyone then headed to dinner. We stayed out late our first night in Rotterdam (bed at 10.30pm) but on subsequent nights we skipped these dinners and ordered room service. In return, Oliver was fairly well rested for the busy days and the cumulative stress and exhaustion of travelling. Lights out at 8 o'clock was a little boring for me once I was over the jet lag, but I just wrote our blog or watched TV on my iPad (Season 1 of House of Cards!).


2. Let the kid decide

Whenever possible I let Oliver decide what we would do and see. In London there were a couple of things I definitely wanted to do, such as the Tower of London. But otherwise, I suggested options to Oliver and let him choose. For instance, in London we went to the London Zoo two afternoons in a row. Oliver loved it and wanted to go back. Once in the zoo, he cycled over and over between visits to the gorillas, monkeys, and meerkats, with a little of the tigers, african hunting dogs, aquarium, and reptiles. This is what he wanted to do and I let him, rather than pressure him to go to new places I thought he would like. He's still talking about the meerkats! A similar thing happened in Rotterdam. One morning he went with Nina, John and Doris to an architecture museum. The next morning when I had free time he didn't want to go somewhere else, but back to the same museum to show me what he had seen.


3. Don't crowd the days

When travelling to new places it is tempting to squeeze in lots of sights and activities; after all, how soon will we be back in Denmark? But a string of long days wears everyone out. We tried not to do too many things in one day and tried not to feel obligated to stay at any one place. For example, one morning in London Oliver and I visited the British Museum. You could spend days there. But Oliver was ready to leave after 90 minutes; so we left. We missed things, but when I abandoned any idea of a list of “must do” sights, it didn't matter. Given this is what worked best for us, next time I wouldn't buy the London Pass. It's really only value for money when you do a number of things each day.


4. Allow plans to change

Some days I made plans in my head of our likely itinerary. But then it didn't pan out. In London we abandoned our plan to go to Legoland Windsor after I read terrible reviews on TripAdvisor. Another day we planned to go to the Tower of London but my day pass for the train was off peak, meaning I couldn't use it until after 9.30am. So instead we wandered to Buckingham Palace and got sidetracked by Churchill's War Rooms. We also planned to take a tour of Chelsea Football Stadium, but then Oliver realised the football season was over and a tour meant just seeing the stadium not the team. Our plans changed again. I realised that as long as we were having fun it didn't matter if we missed some things I originally planned.

A somewhat related issue was money spent on unfamiliar food or drinks. In Aarhus, for instance, Oliver and I took a break in a cafe and ordered a skim milk hot chocolate and a smoothie (or so we thought). But things are made and taste differently in different countries and Oliver didn't like his drink. He tried it but didn't want to finish it. I learned not to sweat money “wasted” on such things (see point 9 below).


5. Remember “trival” things can be just as fun

Amidst our busy travel and conference schedule, Oliver enjoyed many simple things. One morning in London he asked to go feed the ducks in Hyde Park. All this cost us was a half a loaf of bread we didn't plan to eat anyway. In return Oliver spent a wonderful hour in the park. He also enjoyed learning the London Underground, meeting and patting people's dogs in the various parks, kicking a cobblestone around the streets of Aarhus, and sitting in cafe windows and watching people go by (noticing differences between them and people at home). Unplanned, seemingly trivial activities often were just as fun as the big outings and sights. They certainly were a lot cheaper.


6. Your company and attention are worth as much as the sights you will see

Oliver was four when his sister, Louisa, was born. Since she was born he has fought to focus some attention away from her — she has been quite demanding — and back to him. To my mind, one of the very best parts of our trip was the one-on-one time that Oliver and I spent together. I know he enjoyed almost everything we saw and did together but I'm pretty sure he enjoyed as much the fact that he had (almost) my undivided attention. I loved when he said to me after our trip to the Natural History Museum in London that his favourite part of the day was spending it with me!


7. Schedule a rest day

I think it is really important to schedule down time. In London, between morning and afternoon activities we often went back to the hotel for an hour or so rest. I find travelling exhausting and I've travelled a great deal. It must be incredibly overwhelming and tiring for kids. In Aarhus we spent an entire day — the Sunday — doing almost nothing. This allowed us to recharge before we raced off the next day to Legoland and then on to Rotterdam for our last, hectic leg of the trip.


8. Watch for signs of jet lag meltdown (tired, hungry)

Both from Sydney to London and from Rotterdam to Sydney, we travelled approximately 30 hours door to door and crossed many, many time zones. This is hard enough on an adult, let alone on a kid. During the trip I was vigilant for signs of “jet lag meltdown”. Sometimes Oliver didn't realise that he was hungry or tired because his body clock was so out of whack (although he slept brillantly). He just felt unhappy. So we made a pact to be patient with one another when we were feeling a bit cranky; I made sure Oliver got as much sleep as possible; and I encouraged him to eat when he might be hungry. For breakfasts, I bought simple food from the corner store to eat when he first woke up (which in London was quite early) then we had a second, later breakfast when we were out and about. So my advice is to plan for the hunger and tiredness and count to ten!


9. Find familiar foods

Oliver was happy to try new foods. He especially enjoyed the Dutch pancakes that the breakfast chef (who took a bit of a shine to Oliver) made for him in Rotterdam. But he also appreciated familiar foods, particularly since his eating schedule was thrown entirely off kilter by jetlag. In London, in Marks and Spencer, Boots or Pret a Manger, we easily found ham and cheese sandwiches and apples (two favourites), which helped his transition to the new time and environment.


10. Choose hotels with wi-fi (and bring a device or two)

We spent a lot of time in transit and Oliver spent a lot of time in conference venues. He maintained his good humour in part by listening to music, reading on, or playing on his iPad mini. Occasionally he wanted to download new things or to play online. In Aarhus, he was lucky to find another boy at the conference and they played side by side on their iPads while I was giving my talk. So I was pleased and mildly surprised to find that every hotel we stayed in and the conference venues all had free wi-fi for an unlimited number of devices. This contrasts with my most recent stay in the US, where wi-fi cost me $16 a day for one device. Free wi-fi also made my blogging much easier. Many European hotels include free wi-fi. It is worth looking out for it when booking accommodation.


So those are my top tips. What are your best tips for a great trip with kids?


Our last days in Rotterdam and Europe … heading home

Oliver and I fly home to Sydney tomorrow. We are packed and ready to check out in the morning. Once we check out, we catch a metro train from our hotel to Rotterdam Central, then an express train to Amsterdam Schiphol airport, then a 3 hour or so wait for our first flight, then a 6.5 hour flight to Dubai, then a 2 hour lay over in Dubai, then a 14 hour flight to Sydney, then immigration, customs, a taxi and home to our beds!

We will spend the better part of 30 hours travelling door to door. I'm not looking forward to it because I caught a cold somewhere on our travels and feel pretty ordinary today. A man at the conference, who also has a cold, told me tonight that 25% of people develop a cold within a couple of days of flying!

Although Oliver and I have been busy at the conference — Oliver has made a lot of friends amongst the conference delegates — we squeezed in a few final fun things together.

Yesterday (Friday) afternoon, Oliver took a swim in the very fancy hotel pool. The pool deck has amazing views of the Rotterdam skyline.

Our hotel pool


On Friday Oliver also visited The New Institute (or Het Nieuwe Instituut in Dutch) with Nina, Doris and John. Oliver was keen to take me there this morning and navigated us back past Rotterdam landmarks without any trouble. Rotterdam has many wonderful museums and art galleries. Het Nieuwe Instituut “celebrates the innovative power of architecture, design and e-culture”. Right now it is staging an exhibition called “The Ruins”. Architecture seems to play a very important part in the history and life of the Netherlands. Rotterdam is considered the architectural capital of the Netherlands with a daring and impressive skyline. You can read more about Rotterdam architecture here.

It struck me as we walked to Het Nieuwe Instituut that old and new co-exist easily side by side in Rotterdam; a testament to the success of rebuilding following the devastation of World War II.

Sights on our way to Het Nieuwe Instituut


The displays at Het Nieuwe Instituut were fantastic and strange. They rather defy description. I think they aimed to express what architecture means to peope in the Netherlands, but i wasn't entirely sure (I guess like all great art?) Better to see (below) than to have me try to tell.






Whatever they meant, Oliver loved them, running from one display to the next, pointing things out. At the end he played for ages in a large building space. Here he used giant foam blocks to create his own architecture.


This afternoon Oliver and I sat in the hotel lobby and said goodbye to our conference friends. Some we will see at home, some we will be in touch with, some we won't see again until the next SARMAC conference (in Canada in 2015; Oliver is already planning to attend).

Tonight we had a final, quiet dinner with Rochelle — my wonderful, long term conference companion — and ran into still more conference friends starting to make their own way home.

Rochelle and Oliver at our last dinner in Rotterdam


Oliver is asleep now. And I will be soon. The last day and night of a wonderful trip together.

Thanks for reading about our adventures. We will see you soon in Sydney.

Amanda and Oliver

My favourite image of Oliver from our visit to Het Nieuwe Instituut


Rotterdam: A city rebuilt

On Wednesday morning Oliver and I packed our bags yet again and walked to Amsterdam Central Railway Station where we bought tickets to Rotterdam. I wish I had the knack of packing light because our bags have grown heavier with each stop; they now are full of solders, knights, books, soccer gear, Crumpler bags etc etc.

Waiting on the platform at Amsterdam Central Station


We arrived in Rotterdam after a slower than expected train journey then a race to the conference hotel in a pricey cab. My first conference session had already started, but I arrived just in time to give my 5 minute talk.

After the talk, we checked into our hotel. For reasons unexplained we were upgraded to a room in a 5 star hotel next to the conference hotel (at no extra cost). So our room easily is the biggest and fanciest we have had on this trip. The room is spacious. We have a spa bath (after no baths only showers everywhere else) and a TV embedded in the bathroom mirror! This morning Oliver enjoyed a bubbly spa bath while watching TV. We are on the top floor of the hotel with a wonderful view over the port of Rotterdam. Rotterdam is the largest port in Europe and the 5th largest port in the world.

Our room at the Mainport Hotel, Rotterdam


So Rotterdam very much is a working harbour, like Sydney, and we have wonderful views day and night of many different vessels.


Today I've been at the Biennial Conference of the Society for Applied Research in Memory and Cognition: giving two talks (one for myself and one for Penny Van Bergen; both went well), tossing around ideas, and lining up new connections for our team. Five other members of our team — Adam Congleton, Aline Cordonnier, Doris McIlwain, Amanda Selwood, and John Sutton — also gave talks today, which were very well received. Tomorrow and Saturday Rochelle Cox and Misia Temler, also from our group, will present their talks. So, busy.

Oliver went out and about today with the lovely Nina McIlwain, Doris and John's daughter. Oliver has loved being part of the conference scene, talking to people in the team and to researchers from all around the world. I think he is enjoying the limelight as the only kid at the conference. Nina was that kid once, as the daughter of two academics who have travelled far and wide to conferences. She is incredibly smart, articulate and warm and I hope Oliver turns out just like her!

This evening we went to a reception at the Rotterdam City Hall, called Stadhuis. The City Hall, completed in 1915, is one of only two buildings that survived bombing by the Germans on 14th May 1940. On that day, German bombers razed to the ground almost the entire old city, much of it dating from medieval times. Here is what Wikipedia says about the Rotterdam Blitz:

In total, 1,150 50-kilogram and 158 250-kilogram bombs were dropped, mainly in the residential areas of Kralingen and the medieval city centre. Most of these hit and ignited buildings, resulting in uncontrollable fires that worsened the following days when the wind grew fiercer and the fires emerged into a firestorm … Although exact numbers are not known, nearly 1,000 people were killed and 85,000 made homeless. Around 2.6 square kilometres of the city was almost levelled. 24,978 homes, 24 churches, 2,320 stores, 775 warehouses and 62 schools were destroyed.

Below is a painting of Rotterdam sometime between 1890 and 1905, before World War II and the German bombing. You can see the Tower of St. Lawrence' Church, built around 1660, in the background:


Now here is a photo of Rotterdam after the German bombing. Again you can see the Tower of St. Lawrence' Church, this time in ruins:


This photo reminded me of the destruction in Christchurch, New Zealand, still very evident two years after their devastating earthquakes (including the February 2011 earthquake). Here is a photo I took with my brother Gary in April this year. Like Rotterdam, almost all of Christchurch's buildings were destroyed and/or need to be pulled down. An entire city centre gone for all time.

The Christchurch Cathedral after the February 2011 earthquake


Will Christchurch be able to rebuild as Rotterdam has done so successfully? Circumstances are, of course, very different but it was inspiring to visit the beautiful Rotterdam Stadhuis — almost the lone survivor of an earlier age — and then walk outside and around their new Rotterdam.

Inside Rotterdam City Hall or Stadhuis

Inside Rotterdam City Hall or Stadhuis

Outside Rotterdam City Hall or Stadhuis

Modern Rotterdam


Tomorrow is more conferencing while Oliver and Nina seek out some fun. Then later in the day I hope to see more of Rotterdam with Oliver before final conferencing on Saturday and then we fly home from Amsterdam on Sunday. We will let you know what we discover!